Jones' blast vaults O's into East tie with Yanks

Jones' blast vaults O's into East tie with Yanks

Jones' blast vaults O's into East tie with Yanks
BALTIMORE -- Perhaps they are fated, this Orioles club, on a crash course where disbelief and dreams intersect and honoring a storied past becomes another chapter in 2012's storybook season.

"I figure on Cal Ripken [Jr.] Statue Night we can't lose, right? That's not allowed," said right-hander Jason Hammel, who paid his own homage to the Iron Man in gutting out five-plus innings in his first start since July 13, despite taking a sharp liner off his right elbow.

"So, the baseball gods might have had a part in it."

Crazy? Maybe. But a higher power might be the best way to explain how this gritty Orioles team -- which has stuck together all season -- rallied after blowing a five-run lead, taking a spirited 10-6 series-opening win over the Yankees with Ripken watching along with a sellout crowd at Camden Yards.

Fresh off a series win in the Bronx last weekend -- their third series "W" in New York and first since 1976 -- the Orioles keep gaining ground on a reeling New York team, with Thursday's win tying the clubs atop the American League East.

"They're playing with a lot of confidence," said Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez, who watched as Baltimore blasted its way to six homers -- the most in a single game by the club since 2007 -- in taking its sixth victory in the last eight games over New York. "That was pretty impressive there in the eighth."

The awe-inspiring antics, which featured a trio of homers on the heels of five Yankees runs, were highlighted by Jones, who broke a 6-6 tie with a leadoff shot off David Robertson.

"That's the biggest hit I've ever had in my life," Jones said of his 28th homer of the season, 11 of which have tied or given the Orioles the lead. "Everything else up to this point has been leading up to this."

Red-hot Mark Reynolds followed with a two-run shot, his second homer of the game, and the pair of blasts -- followed by Chris Davis' solo shot -- erased any ill will from a five-run meltdown mostly due to reliever Pedro Strop's inability to find the strike zone.

The result was the O's biggest win of the season, the kind of feel-victory that can prop up a club and its city, even when the team is as even-keeled as this one.

"By far [our biggest win]," Jones said. "By far. A team like that, New York, they come back and tie the game, they usually come back. With Robertson, when he comes in, he shuts you down. We were able to get him."

And in the process, they were able to properly honor Ripken, who had a statue unveiled before the game as part of the Orioles' Legends series. The man synonymous with strength, speaking on the anniversary of the day he broke Lou Gehrig's consecutive games played streak, reminded the crowd that being an Oriole is about many things, but it's "also about playing meaningful games in September," a 15-year drought that this year's club has brought back to Baltimore.

"Nine innings is an exposer of a lot of things -- 162 games it's pretty relentless and heartless," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "But I really liked the look in our guys' eyes from the time the game started."

And Reynolds was right in the middle of it. The first baseman, who had been mired in a season-long slump, has been on fire, belting four homers in three games and 12 total since Aug. 6. In the past week alone, he has three two-homer games against the Yankees. The only other player since 1918 to have three multi-homer games in a season against the Yankees was Hank Greenberg in 1938.

"I don't know what I'm doing different now than I was earlier in the season," Reynolds said. "Just got that home run a couple of weeks ago, and [things] kind of started snowballing for me. I'm playing with a lot of confidence, and so is this whole team. We're all playing with confidence. We're having a lot of fun. We're excited to get the ballpark every day and see what the day holds."

With a sea of orange in attendance, a rare sight for a September Orioles-Yankees game, the O's jumped on starter David Phelps for a four-run first that started with Jones' RBI single and was highlighted by Matt Wieters' first-pitch opposite-field blast.

The early cushion was enough to help Hammel get over any jitters as the 30-year-old righty retired six straight to start the game and exited to a standing ovation after walking Rodriguez to start the sixth. Making his first start since undergoing arthroscopic surgery, Hammel pounded the strike zone early and often, allowing just one run on six hits and a pair of walks, while notching six strikeouts.

"I almost expected that," Hammel said of Robinson Cano's liner hitting him to start the fourth. "You come off the DL, it's been a month and a half, and you get a heatseeker right back at you, of course. I laughed it off after a while, because immediately it went numb and I was like, 'Great, here we go again.' But then it came back pretty quickly. It could have derailed me, but I was fortunate I got hit in a pretty good place and I was able to keep going."

And Baltimore's offense kept rolling. Following a pair of long fly balls from Chris Davis and Manny Machado -- both retired on great catches from Granderson in center -- Andino hit a no-doubter into the O's bullpen for his career-high sixth homer. The solo shot, which came on Phelps' 3-1 pitch, pushed the lead back to five and prompted more bullpen activity for the Yankees, who had action in the 'pen after just one out.

New York manager Joe Girardi pulled Phelps after four innings with Joba Chamberlain allowing Reynolds' first homer -- a solo shot in the sixth -- and Robertson charged with another three runs.

"It's huge, but we still have three big games left," Reynolds said of Thursday's win. "Anything can happen. We're not resting on our laurels."

Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.